Parties opt for show of unity after several days of acrimony

Fri, May 30, 2008, 01:00

ANALYSIS:Peace has broken out between Fianna Fáil and the main Opposition parties after an acrimonious few days centring around the Lisbon campaign, writes MARK HENNESSEY.

THE EFFORT to bring an end to the spat between Fianna Fáil and the Opposition, which has dominated so much of the campaign, began on Tuesday. At that point, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, spoke with Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton and, later, with MEP Gay Mitchell.

Already, the idea of a joint canvass involving the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, the Fine Gael leader,Enda Kenny, and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was being proposed.

Relations between the parties have been strained ever since Cowen's "I'll silence you" moment in the Dáil last week, and his seeming lack of appreciation in Portlaoise on Sunday of the campaign efforts of the Opposition parties in favour of a Yes.

No matter how many times Cowen denied it, the Opposition refused to accept his declaration that he had not tried to diminish their contribution to the Yes campaign.

In conversations over the past few days, officials in all three parties accepted that the issue had to be brought to an end if it was not going to dominate the media news cycle for days to come.

On Tuesday night, Martin met with the Taoiseach on the margin of a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, and he agreed to take part in any joint actions agreed.

The PR value of a joint presentation by the leaders late in the campaign could be crucial, and it appears to have been pencilled in for late next week or early the week after.

Indeed, Enda Kenny had intended making the offer in the Dáil on Tuesday, but did not go ahead with it after he was annoyed by the Taoiseach's response.

However, the fact that the issue would not go away accelerated matters, prompting last evening's Dundrum canvass by Cowen, Labour Party leader Gilmore and Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell.

On Wednesday, Kenny formally published his offer in an article in The Irish Times, and again did so in a midday press statement yesterday.

Earlier yesterday morning, the Taoiseach expressed his willingness to "work co-operatively with all of our fellow supporters of the campaign in whatever way is regarded as helpful", when questioned by a journalist.

"And I do not think that really continuing on with that sort of discussion is very helpful. It does not get us anywhere," he said, in a reference to the row earlier in the week.

"I think we should get on with it. There is nothing I would have said in the past that was meant in any way to offend anyone and I think that that should be accepted in good faith," he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News At One, Enda Kenny said there was a lack of co-ordination among the Yes camp and that there was a need for clear messages to be sent out.

By early afternoon, the Dundrum photo-opportunity was organised, though Kenny could not be party to it since he was already committed to a Cork canvass.

Despite facing opposition to Cowen from his own supporters, Kenny insisted: "This is a time for putting the country first in the same way indeed as Alan Dukes did in the Tallaght strategy for voting for Ireland and I have been at pains to point out to our own supporters all over the country and I have written to every one of our members individually stressing this is not the time to take out a partisan political view against the Government, which can wait for 50 weeks until the local and European elections take place next year."

It is understood that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour MEPs - along with the Independent Marian Harkin - will now combine to issue a joint statement to voters.